Is Speeding a Serious Safety Issue?

The most recent NHTSA study on crashes in the USA analyzed data from 2010. The results were published in May 2014. From that study:

In 2010, there were 32,999 people killed, 3.9 million were injured, and 24 million vehicles were damaged in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. The economic costs of these crashes totaled $277 billion. Included in these losses are lost productivity, medical costs, legal and court costs, emergency service costs (EMS), insurance administration costs, congestion costs, property damage, and workplace losses. 

Key findings included:

  • Alcohol-involved crashes resulted in 13,323 fatalities, 430,000 nonfatal injuries, and $59.4 billion in economic costs in 2010, accounting for 21 percent of all crash costs.
  • Speed-related crashes (where at least one driver was exceeding the posted limit OR driving too fast for conditions) were connected to 10,536 fatalities (another third of the total for the year). This represents 32 percent of all fatalities; 20 percent of all nonfatal injuries, and 16 percent of all property-damage-only crashes.
  • Seat belt non-use represents an enormous lost opportunity for injury prevention. In 2010 alone, over 3,350 people were killed and 54,300 were seriously injured unnecessarily because they failed to wear their seat belts
  • Crashes in which at least one driver was identified as being distracted resulted in 3,267 fatalities…

As a nation of drivers, we continue to struggle with key behavior related issues like drinking and driving, speeding, failure to use seat belts and distracted driving.  Our response to these issues over the years has been to target education and enforcement campaigns to try and convince drivers to change their habits voluntarily.

Social norming” to get behavior change tends to be a very slow process and seems to have hit a plateau — we’ve made great gains in select areas since the 1970s — reducing impaired driving deaths from 50% of the annual total to 30%; increasing seat belt usage to an all-time high of roughly 84% (national average — some states are individually higher).

Unfortunately, we’ve slipped backwards on speeding with the removal of the national speed limit of 55 MPH previously established between 1974 and 1995.  Further, the widespread use of electronic devices has contributed to a new group of crashes caused by driver inattention.

Over the past decade, much legislative and media attention has been devoted to “Distracted Driving” but not nearly as much to other (pardon the pun) ‘drivers’ (factors) of fatal crashes.

Consider society’s view of speeding in contrast to distracted driving.  Most motorists look at speeding as a “non-issue” and not a “big deal” from a safety standpoint (AAFTS traffic safety culture surveys have documented a “prevailing attitude of “Do as I say, not as I do” on the part of American motorists”).

Recently a columnist participated in a “press drive” — a marketing opportunity hosted by a car manufacturer to let journalists test drive new or special edition models out on public roads. While each journalist was admonished to obey all traffic laws, this particular journalist was amazed at the power and acceleration of the test car and wound up getting clocked by police radar at 93 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. (To see his whole article about his speeding incident and subsequent three days in jail, click HERE)

Consider his reaction to the incident:

When I was pulled over during a press drive earlier this summer, I had been living in Washington D.C. for about a year and a half. In that time, I had been warned repeatedly — by ex-Virginia resident Matt Hardigree, by many of our readers, and by a host of other people — that you don’t ever speed in Virginia. But I had no clue just how serious the consequences would be. Maybe “serious” isn’t the right word. After everything that happened, “ridiculous” seems a little more accurate.[emphasis added]

I should probably explain why going into Virginia to have fun in a car is a bad idea in the first place. See, they’re crazy about speeding there. Really, really crazy. Speed limits are set absurdly low, 45 mph on some highways. [Virginia presumably follows the same federally recommended standards, or a derivative of those engineering practices when setting limits on roads based on design, traffic volume, etc.] Radar detectors are illegal, and cops have devices to detect them. And if you get caught going over 80 mph at all, that’s automatically a reckless driving charge.

Reckless driving is not a traffic citation, it’s a criminal charge, and a Class One misdemeanor at that. That means it’s the highest level of misdemeanor you can be charged with in Virginia, right below a felony. The maximum penalty for a reckless driving conviction is a $2,500 fine, a six month driver’s license suspension, and up to a year in jail.

See what I mean when I told you it’s serious? They hand it out like it’s Halloween candy, too. You drive 20 mph over the limit, it’s reckless driving. They even charge you with it for failing to properly signal, or when you’re found to be at fault in a car wreck. I’ve heard of some cases where people get 30 days in jail if they speed over 100 mph.

Other Class One misdemeanors in Virginia include animal cruelty, sexual battery, and aiming a firearm at someone. This is how the state regards people who drive over 80 mph.

I do think Virginia’s speed laws are absurdly harsh, especially as a native of Texas where 80 mph is an almost universally accepted highway speed by most drivers and where a toll road just outside of Austin lets you go 85 mph. There, this probably would have been a really expensive speeding ticket; maybe even one I could get dismissed with defensive driving.[emphasis added] I covered the courts for a long time when I was a newspaper reporter in Austin, and I was floored to learn Virginia actually sends people to jail just for speeding.

But that doesn’t excuse what I did. I came into Virginia and broke their laws; I drove way too fast. This is my fault and no one else’s. (Well, maybe the ZL1’s.) This wasn’t one of those moments where I got nailed going 5 mph over in some ridiculously low section of a county designed only for revenue collection; how could I justify going 93 in a 55 when I went to court, I wondered?

So, the driver hired an attorney to broker a plea deal with the court.

The best plea deal I got was a fine of about $400 with court costs, a 10-day suspension of my license in Virginia, and three days in jail. The judge has an option of giving one day in jail for every mile an hour over 90 mph, and he would exercise it here.

So I took the plea, but I was pretty despondent over the outcome for weeks. The fees and license suspension weren’t a big deal, but I was alternately livid and depressed that I’d be going to jail, even for a short stay. I didn’t hurt anyone, or kill anyone, or sell drugs, or drive drunk, or beat my wife, or steal; I was going to jail because I drove too fast in a car.

The best news of all this was that I wasn’t fired. Matt said the last thing you’ll ever get fired for at Jalopnik is speeding. It’s just an occupational hazard for us. And when I emailed Gawker’s editorial director Joel Johnson to apologize, he replied saying, “I don’t give a f**k,” and added that he found the matter “hilarious.”

Would this story have been different if the citation were for texting while driving instead of speeding?  Would the editorial director have had the nerve to consider the situation “hilarious”?

From the recent NTHSA study:

The fact that a vehicle was exceeding the speed limit does not necessarily mean that this was the cause of the crash, but the probability of avoiding the crash would likely be greater had the driver or drivers been traveling at slower speeds. A speed-related crash is defined as any crash in which the police indicate that one or more drivers involved was exceeding the posted speed limit, driving too fast for conditions, driving at a speed greater than reasonable or prudent, exceeding a special speed limit or zone, or racing.

As long as we consider speeding to be our right, speed limits to be merely suggestions, and tickets as only a way for states to make revenue over a non-issue, we will continue to have a plateau in our traffic safety results.  Things can not improve (i.e. people will not stop dying) until this nation breaks it’s obsession with speeding as an acceptable practice for motorists.

What do you think?  IS speeding a non-issue?  Or is it a deathly serious issue?

If your friends think getting a speeding ticket or spending three days in jail for speeding is “hilarious” then consider some of these Public Service Ads from countries that are more progressive in their safety attitude than the USA….

Australian PSA on how reducing speed (even by only 5 KPH) can save lives

Rushing = letting emotions control our better judgement when driving (Australian PSA)

Speeding – is it a ‘mistake’? New Zealand PSA

Irish PSA on speeding “you can’t control the consequences of speeding”

How IS my driving?

UNFI on the roadBased on industry estimates there are several million commercial vehicles (ranging in size/type from SUVs/Vans and Pickups thru tri-axle dumps and tractor trailers) using some sort of “how’s my driving” placard system.

Some of these are internally developed and executed hotlines — where the observer is actually calling the fleet operation directly.

However, most of these hotlines are through a third-party specialist organization that handles all of the administration of:

  • Processing calls on a 24/7/365 basis (instead of dealing with voice mail during “off hours”)
  • Dispatching reports on a timely basis to the correct location supervisor so that he/she can coach the driver promptly
  • Delivering professional driver training materials to help in the coaching process — to focus on a safety “conversation” instead of a disciplinary or fault finding “confrontation”
  • Providing training to supervisors on “how to coach” productively (the goal is to influence drivers to look at their own behaviors and want to be safer tomorrow, not “prove” someone did something wrong)
  • Supporting a “close the loop” process — to track the status of each and every report
  • Providing simple, but valuable management reporting proactively BY EMAIL
  • Providing supplemental driver training modules for the benefit of ALL your drivers (keep them all safety minded).

Did You Know?

  • Eighty percent of all drivers NEVER get a complaint call report during their career?
    • Further, of the twenty percent who do get reports — half get ONLY one and NEVER get another.
    • However, the final group of drivers get call after call after call.
  • Typically these multiple reports focus on common themes — tailgating, following too closely, space management issues, speeding, aggressive driving, etc.
  • Often, the issues raised in the call reports mirror the past violations on the MVR of the affected driver.
  • Sometimes, the call reports actually forecast an imminent collision — in other words, ignore the report and waiting will result in either a violation or preventable crash.

Aren’t these just crank calls?  Motorists with an ax to grind?

  • Our clients investigate each report — even if it’s on a “star” driver or an unusual situation.  They find that only one or two reports out of every hundred are unable to be validated or were not helpful to their own investigation and coaching process.
  • If the reports were from crank callers, the callers would be picking trucks randomly out of the crowd.  The call statistics don’t show a random distribution of calls.  We see 80% of the drivers NEVER get a call, 10% get one (and never another) and 10% get multiples.  So if it’s all made up, why do some drivers get almost all of the reports?
  • Interestingly, the drivers who get multiple call reports have the same sticker as all their peers.
    • Their sticker isn’t larger or bright neon green or offering to pay a bounty for anyone who calls — so why do they get more reports than their peers?
    • Behavior, habits, risk taking, complacency… it what you may, but this represents a chance to HELP this driver avoid any future tickets, fines, or crashes.
    • All it takes is a management team willing to have a conversation, sit him/her down for some training, and keep an eye on them in case the training was ignored.

Isn’t this “old fashioned” and being replaced by Hi-Tech?

  • Just because something’s been proven effective and has been around for thirty years doesn’t mean it stops working.
    • Pizza has been on menus for much longer, but it’s still popular.
    • Baseball and Football have been around much longer and they’re still popular — why would something become ineffective just because it’s been around?
  • It is true that there are hi-tech toys and gizmos out there to monitor drivers.
    • They focus on location, idle time, on/off route, raw speed, harsh braking, harsh cornering, aggressive swerving, and harsh acceleration.
    • ultratrack_1_smThese systems can never detect running a red light, speeding through a school zone when children are present, passing a stopped school bus, discourtesy to other drivers, littering, speeding based on “at the moment” conditions of weather, traffic, etc. (and more).
    • They’re good at what they offer and may provide a fleet with great data; however, separating the mountains of “background noise” data from the “urgently actionable” issues requires a full time analyst who is not provided with the system.
    • We already incorporate telematics alerts into our coaching system.  One client recognized a 600% reduction in speeding behaviors by linking the two systems! (Click HERE)
    • These systems are roughly 100 times more expensive than “how’s my driving?”

Capturing Near Miss Data

People who call in a report about risk taking behavior typically do so because they were frightened or angered by what they saw.  Think about your own experience on the highways — you’ve seen risky behavior, but what would motivate you to actually place a call report (hands free!)?  Something that was “almost” a crash, but was, instead, a “near-miss”.

Rarely do we receive calls about trivial situations — typical calls deal with high speed merges, tailgating, weaving in traffic, and other situations that could lead to crashes featuring bodily injuries (not just physical damage).

Because our system self-selects the most egregious behaviors for reports, the number of reports is quite low — only two or three reports per month (per 100 vehicles).  However, the importance of each report is very high.  This is the opposite of telematics systems that produce mountains of paperwork and you’ve got to locate the needle in the haystack.

Here’s another way to look at this approach:

Pyramid 2011 for blog


Closing the Loop

Our clients have an aggregate close out rate of 80% — that means almost every report is investigated to the point that a definitive management action has been instituted.

Another example of a blended scoreFurther, several studies have conclusively shown that this coaching process (without video training or online training) has been the key to unlocking significant crash reduction results (10–30% fewer crashes than without the hotline program in place.)

So, now that we’ve been producing brief (5-7 minute) reminder videos for our online Learning Management System (LMS) we expect even stronger loss reduction results.

The first five remedial/refresher videos were produced in both English and Spanish (for use with non‐regulated fleets), and cover the following topics:

  1. Tailgating
  2. Improper Lane Change
  3. Honoring the Right of Way
  4. Driving Too Fast for Conditions
  5. Running Red Lights / Stop Signs

These five topics cover roughly 80% of all Motorist Observation Reports (MORs) generated at SafetyFirst, and a similar emphasis on moving violations.

We are in the process of releasing additional topics based on MOR trends, client recommendations and the level of enthusiastic adoption of the videos within our client base.

As of September 1, 2013:

  1. Exceeding the Speed Limit (dealing with GPS alerts!)
  2. Aggressive Driving
  3. Distracted Driving (Cell Phone/Text)
  4. Drowsy Driving
  5. Faulty Equipment
  6. Drug/Alcohol Use
  7. Driving Too Slowly for Conditions (Impeding Traffic)


Driving Too Fast PPTWhether a regulated fleet or not, our program offers a range of benefits worth considering — it’s very low cost, includes a monthly training package, urgent alerts about near miss events, coaching and re-training emphasis (instead of fault finding or blaming) and the ability to run your drivers through very brief, but highly motivational online training modules.

We’re already the industry leader in driver safety programs for:  Arborists/GreenCare, Social Service Providers, Municipalities, Pest Control, HVAC, Electrical Contractors, Beverage Delivery, Telecommunications, Food Processing and Distribution, Specialty Contractors, Construction, Auto Parts Wholesale and Retail, Retail (Direct Delivery) and more!

Why not check us out?


NEw logo


Five oft-overlooked driver distractions…

Automotive Fleet Magazine offered a brief article on five key distractions that can lead to crashes, but don’t receive nearly as much publicity as texting and hand-held phones.

Here are some selective quotes from their article (whcih can be accessed by this link —

1. Eating Causes Driver Mistakes 
Eating while driving is riskier than talking/listening to a handheld device, according to NHTSA. After reviewing a 2006 crash-risk analysis, NHTSA found that the extended glance length of eating while driving caused a 1.57:1 crash-risk ratio while talking/listening to a handheld device while driving caused a 1.29:1 crash-risk ratio.

2. Don’t Resist a Rest
Drowsy driving reduces response time, which increases the crash risk ratio 4.24:1, according to NHTSA. Drowsiness typically has more to do with time-of-day rather than time-on-task.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) reported that drowsy driving is two times more likely to occur during the first hour of a work shift, because drivers are not fully refreshed and awake when they begin their day.

3. Living in a Dream World 
In 2013, Erie Insurance Company released its Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which reviewed nationwide crash data between 2010 and 2011. According to the data, police listed drivers as “lost in thought” 62 percent of the time as the cause of vehicle collisions.

4. Limit In-Car Entertainment
Controls, displays, and driver aids are standard driving tools today. After observing drivers who were instructed to perform radio tuning, NHTSA recorded that crash-risk increased after the driver’s eyes left the road for more than 2 seconds. Furthermore, NHTSA research noted that a task should not take longer than 12 seconds.

5. Put a Lid on Sightseeing
Drivers should constantly scan the road, but should not fixate on objects surrounding the road. According to the FMCSA, drivers who fixate on external objects — e.g., people, billboards, and landmarks — are likely to enter into a blind gaze where they are not paying attention to the road.

Incentives for Safe Driving?

One of the most common search terms used in the past six months by fleet safety managers is “Driver Incentive Program”.  A recent article states;

Another traffic pic“There is little question that keeping company vehicle drivers, their passengers, and the public safe is the single most important responsibility a fleet manager has. From vehicle selection to specification to policy, safety should be a primary force in decision-making.”

“One method used by many companies to help make safety efforts successful is implementing a safe driving incentive program. Using various measurements, drivers whose safety records are exemplary are rewarded.”

“But if the basis for the program is merely “no accidents = cash,” the overall goal of achieving a safety culture among drivers won’t be met. Here are some tips to remember when you want your safety program to have maximum effectiveness.”

READ MORE? Click Here.

Additionally, a case study of particular note, titled “PAY INCENTIVES AND TRUCK DRIVER SAFETY: A CASE STUDY” conducted by the team of DANIEL A. RODRÍGUEZ, FELIPE TARGA, and MICHAEL H. BELZER was brought to my attention by a colleague.  The study summary states:

“This paper explores the safety consequences of increasing truck driver pay. The test case the authors examine involves a large over-the-road truckload firm that on February 25, 1997, raised wages an average of 39.1%. An analysis that controls for demographic and operational factors, including prior driving experience and experience acquired on the job, suggests that for drivers employed during the lower pay regime and retained in the higher pay regime, crash incidence fell. A higher pay rate also led to lower separation probability, but this indirect effect only translated into fewer crashes by increasing the retention of older, more experienced drivers. These findings suggest that human capital characteristics are important predictors of driver safety, but that motivational and incentive factors also are influential “

The study can be found by clicking HERE.

Finally, the FMCSA has previously published information designed to help pave the way forFMCSA Retention brief fleets who are struggling to reduce their UNSAFE DRIVER “BASIC” scores and want to examine incentives as part of that process. represents one of these FREE resources that many fleet managers are unaware exist.


Many fleets have worked with incentive programs and they either LOVE them or HATE them — the keys to success focus on simple issues:

  1. The drivers need to buy in to the program — if the incentives offered are unappealing, they won’t influence behavior
  2. Goals need to be reasonable and achievable.  If the drivers feel that the goals are unrealistic, they may give up before really trying to attain them
  3. Communication between management and drivers is very important — if the drivers don’t understand parts of the program, how it gets administered, or what they need to do, they can become very frustrated.  It’s also helpful to provide periodic feedback on progress to keep everyone encouraged and working towards a common goal.
  4. Keep it simple.  There is always a temptation to make things complicated.  Keeping the program as simple as possible makes it easier to communicate goals, methods and progress.  If something isn’t working well, it’s also easier to change things than when the program is highly complex.

The team at SafetyFirst may be able to help you further!  Give us a call to discuss our programs and resources. 1-888-603-6987

Can we be overwhelmed by technology?

Digital Trends recently published an interesting article (click here to see it) titled “Driving under the influence: Why car safety tech might actually be making us more dangerous behind the wheel”

The article thoughtfully examines how we drive, what happens when we get too comfortable in our cabin on “auto pilot” and what factors may be compounding the issue.  For instance, when we first started driving, we had a higher anxiety level — everything was new and we focused on judging the space around our car.  Learning to drive a manual transmission would also keep a young driver focused on “driving” and because they’re busy using their hands and feet to shift, they’re less likely to be using their thumbs to text while driving (interesting? check out this study — click here)

However, over the years, we get complacent for a variety of reasons:  we’re comfortable operating our vehicle, we’re familiar with the roads near where we live and typically drive, and we’ve learned that traction control, electronic stability control, ABS braking, airbags and such will protect us “if” we have a problem that is truly unexpected.

On this issue the article introduces an interesting concept:

A number of studies have already examined how humans react to different levels of stimulus while performing a task. The first is what is known as the Yerkes-Dodson law, which predates the mass adoption of the automobile but is still extremely relevant. Developed by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson in 1908, the law basically states that the amount of stimulus offered by a given task is directly related to how much attention we will give it. Too much stimuli will overwhelm us and too little will cause us to become bored, neither of which is ideal when it comes to devoting maximum attention to driving. Back in 1908, and for some years thereafter, operating an automobile would often send people into the stressed end of the spectrum, but these days it is boredom that poses the greater threat.

Yerkes-Dodson law graph

Overall, the article challenges us to re-think our assumptions about how we drive.  I know a lot of people identify with the concept of slipping into “auto pilot” mode when on longer trips, or cruising highways.  Maybe there’s something to using technology to engage us and keep us focused, but at the same time, too much information (overload) can have an equally damning effect.

A second part of the equation is offered this way:

But there is another factor at work here, one which is harder to see in action. Fred Mannering of Purdue University has called attention to the fact that, although things like anti-lock brakes and airbags should be making us safer, accident fatality rates have actually been increasing. He theorizes that people feel so much more protected by their cars, that they are more likely to engage in risky behavior. This is related to the psychological phenomenon known as the Peltzman effect, also more commonly known as risk compensation. Basically, it says we engage in riskier behavior the safer we feel. It has been applied to cars in past, for instance when talking about seat belts, but the effect was much less evident when the safety equipment was something so basic. Features such as stability control are said not to have caused an increase in risky driving, since the effect only happens when the driver is aware of what the safety equipment is doing. But technologies like adaptive cruise control (to match the speed of the car in front of you) and lane departure warnings (audio visual cues given when you drift out of a marked lane) appear to have been designed specifically for those who would rather check their Facebook than their blind spot. [emphasis added]

Do you agree with the author’s assertion that we may be overconfident in our driving habits due to the newest advances in technology being applied to our cars and trucks?  I’ve heard this argument before, but I’m not sure whether I fully agree or not.

Take a second look at the source article and let us know your thoughts at our Facebook page (, Linked In group, or right here at our blog site.

We believe traffic safety results can be improved and that every driver bears a share of the responsibility to make things “safer”.

Webbing While Driving

Distracted driving takes many forms….it can range from applying make up or shaving to reading the newspaper….while attempting to negotiate the morning commute.  The types of bizarre activities could make for a funny “top ten list” on late night television, but I believe the biggest threat comes from the most mundane and predictable activities that distract drivers.

Talking on a hand held, “finger dialed” phone is one of the most threatening distractions on the road.  It takes people’s eyes off the road while dialing, and it removes a big portion of their mind’s focus from the highway to the conversation.

A new threat has been on the rise, too.  Checking emails, surfing the web, or using a smart phone for navigation has been on the increase.  Using web-enabled devices, or “webbing while driving” for short, provides a fresh focus on an old problem.

State Farm (among other insurers) periodically performs surveys to see what’s happening among drivers.  The surveys help point out what’s really going on behind the wheel and can help traffic safety professionals rethink policies and priorities.

In a November 16th press release, State Farm summarizes findings from their most recent survey which shows “significant use of mobile web in vehicles”. 

“The July 2012 survey of nearly 1000 motorists shines a light on a growing safety concern: people accessing the internet while driving. Four years of data show a significant increase in the use of mobile web services while driving.”

Also from their press release:

While the distracted driving focus has traditionally been on young people, the data indicate that motorists of all ages are using the mobile web while driving.

For drivers 18-29:

    • Accessing the internet while on a cell phone while driving increased from 29 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2012.
    • Reading social media networks while driving increased from 21 percent in 2009 to 36 percent in 2012.
    • Updating social networks while driving increased from 20 percent in 2009 to 30 percent in 2011.
    • Checking email while driving rose from 32 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2012.

For all drivers, the data showed:

    • Smart phone ownership is on the rise, and people who report webbing while driving goes down with age.
    • Accessing the internet while on a cell phone increased from 13 percent in 2009 to 21 percent in 2012.
    • Reading social media networks while driving increased from 9 percent in 2009 to 15 percent in 2012.
    • Updating social networks while driving increased from 9 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in 2012.
    • Of course, several new models of sedans have been released with “built-in” web connectivity featuring wifi for passengers, but limiting web surfing (using a manual interface) for the driver while the car is in “park”.   

Of course, the range of services is greater for drivers with voice recognition equipped cars.  “Hands free apps” include the ability to obtain turn by turn navigation, but also the ability to have your car read you your horoscope for the day.  Also, you can get stock quotes, vehicle health reports, sports scores, and movie listings while driving.  Is it any wonder webbing while driving is popular among smart phone users?  

So does your company policy (or family policy?) cover webbing while driving?  Should it be expanded to include these features?  Is it OK to use voice recognition to get your daily horoscope?

Interestingly, the State Farm survey also asked about ways to curb the undesirable road behavior: 

“When asked for their opinion on ways to reduce distracted driving, 72 percent of drivers surveyed strongly agree with laws or regulations prohibiting texting or emailing behind the wheel. However, almost two-thirds believe that laws governing cell phone use while driving are enforced to little or no extent.  To a lesser degree, 45 percent were extremely likely to support technology that would prevent texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.”

While drivers are ready to acknowledge that risky driving habits need to be curbed, they are often reluctant to give up the technology that contributes to the very issue at hand.  This has been documented in many surveys where drivers are quick to condemn other drivers, but won’t or can’t acknowledge that their own driving isn’t much different from the targeted “at-risk” behaviors.

The simplest advice is to focus on the task at hand.  Drive with hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, and your mind paying attention to signs/signals and the other drivers out there.

SafetyFirst is a driver safety firm that works with most insurance carriers and agents.  We also work with employers in most every industry segment to help them devise and fine tune policies that actually curb unsafe behaviors instead of merely talking about them.  If you’re part of our “in-network” coverage group, we may be able to provide certain programs and services at no cost to you for the benefit of your employee-operators.  If you’re “out of network” we can provide a competitive quote on services ranging from MVRs, telematics, Hotline programs and more.

MVRs as a Lifespan Predictor?

 Recently, LexisNexis and RGA Reinsurance Company completed a study of more than 7.4 million motor vehicle records (MVRs).  Among other observations, they found that:

  • Individuals with major violations, such as alcohol-related infractions and excess speeding, have all-cause mortality that is 70 percent higher than individuals who do not.
  • The presence of six or more driving violations on an MVR elevates an individual’s all-cause mortality by 80 percent.
  • Individuals with a high number of major driving violations represent the worst risks.

Interestingly this study was conducted to gain insights into how to more accurately gauge the right price for life insurance, and how to do so more efficiently than using current, conventional practices.  From their study:

For instance, a 45-year old male seeking a $250,000 policy may not appear to live a risky lifestyle and, based on medical and financial reports, may even qualify as a preferred risk. Yet, according to our research, men between the ages of 41-50 with multiple major violations on their MVRs have an all-mortality rate that is nearly twice that of a driver with a clean record. Based on this study, MVRs are a suitable indicator of all-cause mortality, and they offer positive protective value for all ages and genders.

How did we get here?

The study cross tabulated 7.4 million MVRs with 73,000 death reports from the Social Security Death Master File (SSDMF) and then normalized the data to compensate for potential under-reporting of deaths in the SSDMF.

Individuals were distinguished based on whether they had clean records, minor violations or major violations on their MVRs. To avoid bias, major violations were pre-defined by RGA, and include infractions such as alcohol- or substance related infractions, excess speeding, and reckless or negligent driving.

The study examined the relationship between all-cause mortality and MVRs according to three segmentations:

  • Results by MVR severity (On average, having a major violation elevated an individual’s all-cause mortality by 71 percent.)
  • Results by number of violations (It was found that the more violations on an individual’s MVR, the higher their relative mortality ratio. In particular, individuals with 2–5 violations  experienced 24 percent higher mortality, and those with six or more violations experienced 79 percent higher mortality ratios)
  • Results by number of major violations (Results showed that individuals with a high number of major driving violations represent the worst risks. Having just one major violation on an MVR elevates an individual’s all-cause mortality by 51 percent; with four or more violations, their mortality is more than twice that of individuals without major violations.)

 Can we project any further (if generalized and speculative) conclusions?

  • If MVR violation history is such an indicator of mortality, then would MVR data have a relationship to health care costs or the likelihood of being injured on or off of the job? 
  • Would Usage Based Insurance (using electronic reporting devices linked to your car or truck) be of similar value to rating your life insurance policy or helping you improve your healthcare deductible?
  • What’s the net effect of changing your behaviors through driver education and performance monitoring (i.e. use of UBI devices to modify your habits in order to obtain a lower rate on your car insurance – would this translate to leading a longer life than if you had not modified your lifestyle?)

If you’d like to review the source white paper, visit:

If you’d like to learn more about our proprietary blended risk scoring that incorporates multiple data sources (i.e. MVR data from states/provinces; telematics; collision data; Motorist Observation Reports, give us a call or send us an email!

FMCSA Seeks 183% Budget Hike to Increase CSA Enforcement – Market Trends – Automotive Fleet

As reported by Automotive Fleet magazine (see link — FMCSA Seeks 183% Budget Hike to Increase CSA Enforcement – Market Trends – Automotive Fleet.) “the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can only audit about 2 percent of the nation’s truck fleets due to its finite resources”.

The article asserts that these few audits are focused on “high-risk fleets“, but many would counter that the program designed to spotlight those operators (CSA) is flawed and has never been fully validated (the use of all crash data, not only “at-fault” data to establish scores as one example).

To now propose a radical increase in budget to spike enforcements (and levy fines) using this unproven and critically attacked system is either genius or heinous.

On one hand, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) attempt to define the bare minimum safety standards that should universally apply to medium and heavy duty vehicles engaged in interstate commerce.  There are flagrant violators and there are also “gold medal” companies who go far above and far beyond these minimums. 

Unfortunately, the stellar performers get underbid on cargo shipments by the flagrant violators.  This vicious circle works against the promotion of safe driving at reasonable speeds — the motor carrier with the fastest transit times and most blatant disregard for “hours of service” rules (and lower than realistic bids) often edge out the carriers who do it right and bid it appropriately.

Regardless of all the bystander’s rantings about CSA, one thing is clear — FMCSA is signalling it’s intent to ramp up enforcement. 

Curbing unsafe driving, inspecting and repairing equipment, documenting driver qualifications and handling all recordkeeping consistently are more important than ever before.  And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Because Results Count, What Training Approach Makes the Most Sense?

Guest Commentary from Joe Zingale, VP Business Development, SafetyFirst Systems, LLC

I was speaking to my CEO, Paul Farrell, at the SafetyFirst corporate office and we were discussing driver training and all the various types and formats that exist today: Online Training, Video, Audio, Written, Classroom, Behind the wheel, etc. We are in development of our own training program and we wanted to determine what would be the most effective, defined by the results it produced (reduced incidents/collisions).

We agreed that there are a lot of “good” training programs out there already, but when you look closely at the current offerings and then at the needs of the majority of fleets, we recognized some surprising things:

  1. There are a large range of industries, each with their own special concerns for drivers to address
  2. Most larger firms have multiple types of vehicles – each with special concerns that should be pointed out to drivers (i.e. blind areas, special equipment, handling concerns, etc.)
  3. Regardless of the size of the firm, drivers encounter wildly different road types and weather conditions throughout North America (i.e. “winter driving” is very different in Arizona versus Manitoba or even Maryland)
  4. There are differences in driving between the same vehicle type  (i.e. “VAN” could mean: cable companies driving tech vans vs. social services organizations driving 15 passenger vans.).  

We soon realized that each company would have to decide whether they wanted:

  1. To build a massive library to deal with each and every one of these variable factors, or
  2. Settle for a generic menu of courses (i.e. light versus large vehicles, “Defensive Driving” practices, or some variation of a “one size fits all” program) that would provide little impact to the driver taking the course.  After all, the phrase “Generic Focus” is an oxymoron in the training world for good reason. 

We admitted that we’ve heard from safety managers who feel the effort becomes pointless when, after a driver has taken the course, there is another incident recorded by the same driver.  We’re not undervaluing training mind you. It’s necessary and important; however, how do we know when it was fully effective?  What are the metrics that show us the results?  Is it reduced crash rates or test scores?  Is it the ease of implementation, or whether the drivers like theLMS/Content?

It’s amazing to think about the amount of hours invested in most fleets for: entry level driver training; training to learn new or advance current skills; regulatory compliance and policy training; even post-incident refresher training.

In the years that I have been designing and implementing fleet safety programs, I don’t believe I ever had a client who knowingly put a driver on the road that wasn’t: licensed; trained; experienced; and fully qualified to the various selection processes such as background checks, drug testing, medical certificates, etc.  So, once a driver is on the road and has an incident/crash that wasn’t due to a mechanical issue or clearly the fault of another motorist, doesn’t it boil down to either complacency (unaware of habits) or negligence (aware, but doesn’t care)It’s not a lack of training, skill or knowledge contributing to these incidents.  Bottomline:  I’m certain that most drivers wouldn’t have been entrusted with a set of keys and a company credit card if their results depended primarily on whether they had “enough” training – so how is “more training” going to fix the underlying performance issue?  (Again, training as a safety method isn’t the problem, I think it’s the over-reliance on training as a cure-all solution that gets some folks in deep water.  Also, check out the article on “training transfer” at 

With our “How’s My Driving?” program we find that it is a small percentage of drivers who ever receive reports (10-15%) but studies by our insurance partners and fleet clients show that drivers with multiple reports have a much greater risk of becoming involved in a crash. The typical response is to offer more “training” to these drivers in the hope that we can change their day-to-day performance by re-teaching the six second following rule.  Would that work if the underlying issue is attitude, not lack of knowledge? Also, if the supervisor’s attitude reflects that of the affected driver (just watch this video so we can both get back to work, OK?) why would the driver feel the need to change his/her behavior?

Interestingly, our clients experience the highest report volume during the first several months of the program. It reinforces a theory I’ve long held – drivers who are “at-risk” of becoming involved in a collision (so-called “Unsafe Drivers” by the CSA program) either don’t recognize their risk taking habits or don’t care about them.  Those clients who invest the time to look these drivers in the eye and really coach them on specific issues received a noticeable reduction after the first few months.  Clearly, the drivers that “don’t care” that will continue to receive reports (ignoring the coaching/training efforts and sadly moving on to other means to motivate a change in performance) and those that “didn’t know” that they had slipped into habits, once they have been made aware of them, do not receive a second report. So, back to our discussion on our training program development.  As mentioned earlier, because of the size of the library needed to cover all the variables, and the low impact of generic training, we looked for a different solution.

In my experience, the best and most successful safety directors are those that take safety and make it personal – compassionately intervening to impress upon their drivers a need to change before something bad happens.

I have always admired the passion they bring to their work. It’s not about numbers for them. After all, it’s about motivating their team to perform, not how to avoid getting caught. Offense rather than defense! One analogy I have used when speaking to various groups is the Safety Director/Employee relationship is very much akin to the relationship between a parent and teenager (who feels “invincible” and safety is a message really intended for their peers, not themselves).

If you were concerned about your teenager’s safety and well-being, you’d talk to them about consequences, reasons to choose safety over the dares and “counsel” of their peers.  You’d look them in the eye and talk about why it is so important that they understand how much you care for them and why you don’t ever want to see them get hurt. In short, you’d “discipline them” where “discipline” is defined as; “…training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”  We want to know that they’ll behave a certain, predictable way when we’re not there to watch them or intervene on their behalf.

What we wouldn’t do with our own teenagers is sit them in front of a television, pop in a DVD and cross our collective fingers that the “training takes hold”.   Paul and I further agreed that we’d spend time driving with our sons and daughters and restrict them from driving with friends who’ll distract them and other steps.  Would you do any less for your own son/daughter when they’re driving for the first time?  How about when they’ve been driving for five years, ten years or twenty – the time we spend with them now pays dividends in continued safety – later (when we’re not with them).  I’m not going to trust aDVDor online course to build their internal “discipline” – would you? 

We recognized that the best way we could impact a commercial driver safety program would be to help the Safety Directors by giving them coaching strategies and tactics! I haven’t met with a Safety Director that isn’t already working 60+ hours a week going 100 mph with their hair on fire, running multiple programs at the same time across a number of areas beyond the fleet aspect of their job. We have, and are continuing to, develop our “training” to do two things:

  1. Address the actual performance issue through coaching and use training only as a reminder of what they should already know. In the case of a Motor Observation Report that could be tailgating, unsafe lane changes, speeding, etc.   We’ll coach on why these behaviors necessarily lead down the road to “bad stuff happening”, but then we’ll also coach on how the driver can/should self-monitor and correct those habits and performance issues while behind the wheel.
  2. Equip, enable and empower the Safety Director so that each meeting with an affected driver can be used as an opportunity instead of turning into a confrontation.  It’s not about “blaming”, it’s actually about “training reminders” – so that the performance (whether “attitude” or “complacency” based) improves to everyone’s benefit.  The driver reduces the likelihood of getting a ticket or injury, and the fleet improves their CSA scores and maintains reasonable insurance pricing.

Our coaching program covers the comments and responses between driver and management, based on feedback we have collected from our clients, so that conversation is positive and the effect is the driver is a better driver!   To introduce our coaching program (an opportunity that really is best addressed through education) we have produced a brief, but powerful video package for supervisors to learn how to implement these concepts.

As our decals state; “Safety Is My Goal” – getting to that state of “safety” takes eyeball to eyeball conversations – training by proxy through an internet connection may be “easy” but only gets results defined by needing to buy more training.  We’d rather measure success by fewer injuries — Does anything else matter?

Joe Zingale recently joined SafetyFirst as our VP of Business Development and can be reached toll free at855-229-3220.  Joe has 17 years experience in driver safety having previously worked at Driver’s Alert, but finally “seeing the light” and making the change to SafetyFirst during 2011.

The Vulnerability of Telematics as a “Stand Alone” Driver Safety Solution

Telematics, specifically, the use of automatic vehicle location services (commonly referred to as AVLS or GPS systems) offers incredibly helpful data to fleet managers.

The combination of onboard recorders and telemetry (communication of the data back to a central web site as it happens) can provide timely identification of vehicles with exceptional attributes: excessive idle time; significant deviations from planned route; stationary for unusual periods of time; traveling at excessive velocities; swerving and swaying through traffic lanes; etc.

The principal benefit of this information is to enhance fleet efficiency by providing the operations team with tools to dispatch effectively, reduce fuel waste, and hold drivers accountable for productivity metrics.

A secondary benefit has been promoted by telematic program supporters – improving driver safety.

There’s no question that telematic programs can provide information about speed, hard braking, heavy acceleration and even sway/swerve. Unfortunately, the best data in the world will be ineffectual unless:

  1. it is conveyed to the driver in a meaningful way so that the driver actually changes their own behavior while they are “behind-the-wheel” of their vehicle, and
  2. behaviors are affected proactively enough to actually prevent collisions from happening.

Fortunately, SafetyFirst provides the “integration” of information management, supervisory coaching and driver training resources your team needs to translate raw data into results. Let me give you the “big picture”.

One of our clients has used our SafetyFirst behavioral program for many years. They later added telematics for the “operations team” and found great success in improving dispatch and fuel savings. However, driver safety was not the primary goal of implementing the system. During the first year, they amassed 1700 excessive speed reports. The telematics program delivered the data efficiently, but (based on our understanding) provided no mechanism to follow up with individual drivers at various locations. It became clear that behaviors were not being addressed and the trend suggested that the behavior would continue.

Our client asked SafetyFirst to receive all subsequent excessive speed alerts and treat the alerts as though they were a concerned motorist making an observation report. This accomplished several important steps:

  1. Our database could match the truck to the location and send the report to the supervisor of the affected driver promptly.
  2. In addition to sending the report, our system automatically attached pertinent training materials to use with the affected driver (the report and training materials were merged into the same email).
  3. The supervisors have been trained to use our behavioral coaching process to help assure that the affected driver understands why his/her behaviors on the road place them “at-risk” of becoming involved in a collision. This includes training tied to the issues reported in each type of incident.
  4. The report must be closed out in our database showing the results of the supervisory investigation and coaching process. This includes signatures of the supervisor and affected driver.
  5. The driver’s behavior is logged for future reference and comparison to MVR data and other profile factors (we can supply MVR data in real time and profile it based on the client’s own matrix).
  6. Drivers with repeated instances of aggressive driving reports can be targeted for more intensive training and coaching per client’s own specifications.
  7. Monthly, topical training packages are sent to help ALL drivers stay on the right road.
  8. Managers get streamlined summary reporting on a monthly basis to note trends/patterns in supervisory responses and driver responses.

In the first year of having us manage their telematics data for safety issues, the client dropped the excessive speed alerts by 600% (went from 1700 to less than 200 alerts).

What really changed?   The telematics system worked perfectly – it supplied data.  Our system worked perfectly – it got supervisors to talk to drivers about the data in a way that modified behavior.

Think about it….Behavioral safety programs depend on performance feedback, delivered in a timely manner, about specific habits and actions.  Reinforcing the right/desired behaviors or outcomes and illustrating why the inappropriate behaviors present a risk to the operator in such a way that the operator would value “getting it right” tomorrow.  Driver Safety Hotlines follow this process (person to person communication).  Telematics providers, generally, do not (so much data that it becomes difficult to distinguish the “urgently actionable” from the “background noise”).

Is this a recommendation of one type of program over the other? Not at all – it’s making the case that they work better together! Safety results don’t come from an “either this or that, but not both” mindset – it comes from leveraging the individual strengths of multiple programs. Just as MVR screening, driver training, driver safety hotlines, post-crash investigation, and other safety elements must work together to get optimized results, telematics isn’t an effective “one-man-band” that can replace these other elements.

There’s no question that telematics have a role to play in the future of most commercial fleets, but telematics isn’t a silver bullet solution by itself. SafetyFirst provides the “integration” of information management, supervisory coaching and driver training resources your team needs to translate data into results.